Training your puppy to come to you when you call his name is one of the most important lessons you can teach a new pup. Not only does your wonderful bundle of joy learn that he has a name—and is cherished by a family who considers him their own—but the lesson can also be crucial if he bolts and you need to stop him from running into danger. There are several ways to accomplish this task, each varying in difficulty and depending on the stage your dog is at. Above all, keep the training process fun for your dog, so that he internalises this behaviour properly.
Method 1: Using a lead and retreating
- Put your dog on a lead, preferably one that is not too long. This ensures that he cannot run away. Chasing him will be hard, as he has not yet learnt to respond to his name.
- Stand a few feet away from him and call his name or ask him to come. Take a few steps back. Your dog will think you’re retreating and will want to chase you. He will take a few steps forward.
- Keeping moving back, using gestures and slapping your thighs, until your puppy understands that he must reach you and not just move a few steps in your direction.
- When he is at your feet, praise him. Give him a treat to show him that you are proud.
- Repeat the process until he comes the moment you call his name or say ‘come’. This can take a few tries, but do not be discouraged. Your puppy only needs to understand what you want, and practicing puppy recall plenty of times will make it perfect.
Method 2: Using a lead and a treat
- If you have trouble training your puppy to come with the above method, try this one. If your puppy doesn’t seem inclined to chase you, he may need some encouragement. Using pieces of BETA kibble as treats can get any dog passionate.
- Put your dog on a lead, as described in the first method. Call him or say ‘come’, but this time hold out a treat as well. Your dog will be instantly excited by this—who doesn’t like a good treat? When he comes to you, give him the kibble and praise him.
- Repeat the process again, but this time move back while holding the treat. This shows your pup that he has to reach you, irrespective of whether you are moving or are standing still. The treat will keep him engaged and, after a few tries, he will learn what to do.
- Remember to praise him each time he gets it right! Positive feedback shows your pup he understands you correctly.
Method 3: Without a lead, but with a treat
- You will need a partner to train your puppy to come using this method, as your pup is still in danger of running away. Another person can help keep him on track during training.
- Make sure your partner is holding your puppy carefully by his sides. Once you are sure, remove the lead. This shows your pup that this lesson applies in all settings, and not just as part of a training exercise.
- Walk a few feet away from him and call him with a treat in your hand.
- When your pup comes to you, praise him and give him the treat. Then point the pup towards your partner. Your partner will be holding out a treat as well, and will be calling your puppy. Your dog will go to your partner, excited by the thought of his favourite food. In this way, you teach him to go when his name is called (and not just come to you).
- It is best to use a family member as a partner, someone who lives in the house with you and whom the puppy must listen to.
- Once your pup has got the hang of puppy recall, you can turn this into a game. You and your partner can throw a treat between yourselves. This will keep your pup excited and enthusiastic as he runs from one to the other, trying to catch the treat. Always give him the treat in the end, along with lots of praise.
Evolution of the puppy recall exercise
- It is important to practise this in as many settings as possible. Your pup must know to come when called in any situation—when you’re at the stove, in another room, or out in the garden—and not just when you’re crouched in front of him.
- Practise calling him around the house, sometimes when your back is turned. At first, dogs will only listen the closer you are to them, so make sure you start with small distances. As he gets better at recognising the command, move further away.
- In time, practise calling him from other rooms that he is not in. This can become a game for him, as he hunts around the house for you by following your voice. Treat him with plenty of cuddles and kisses for getting it right.
Once your puppy learns the sound of his name, he will not forget. When you are training him, avoid repeating commands. Dogs can get confused with the different sounds. Simply say ‘come’ or his name and then indicate the rest through gestures. Remember to put all the love you feel into your voice when calling him. Dogs respond to enthusiasm and friendliness and he will learn to connect the sound of his name with joy and love—and come bounding into your arms!